By the first of July, all of the birds that nest in our area have already nested, and bird nesting season is drawing to a close. Right? Well, you might be right, IF you ignore birds like hummingbirds, bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, robins, and many of your other favorites that may have two or more broods during a single year, AND IF, you ignore another of your favorites, the goldfinches, which are just now starting their first nest, and usually begin a second nest in August!
Why so late? Like many other aspects of bird behavior, diet and food availability go a long way towards an explanation. Most of your favorite birds (like the list above) feed their young a diet that includes a lot of protein-rich insects even if the adult diet is mostly seed. In our area, these insects usually become active and available by mid-April, just in time for the first brood of nestlings to hatch. By contrast, goldfinch diet consists exclusively of seeds—if they eat an insect, it’s probably an accident. (E-eew, I swallowed a bug!) Milkweeds, wild asters, and especially native Ohio thistle species are their favorite seed-providing plants, and this year’s crop is just now maturing.
Goldfinch nests are usually found in shrubs or small scrubby trees and are generally constructed with plant roots and seed husk fibers. An easy way to find goldfinch and other bird nests is to provide raw cotton or other natural fibers in a mesh bag, and to watch where the birds that remove the fibers go with them.
When you think of a goldfinch, the image you get is probably of a bright-lemon yellow bird with stark black wing and tail feathers and white wing bars. This image represents the plumage of male finches during the summer breeding season. Unique among the finch family, male goldfinches molt a portion of their feathers twice each
year, with alternating bright and dull patterns. Females also molt twice yearly, but the female’s breeding plumage is still much more subdued than the male. Other finches, like the House Finch, may also go through a color change, but this is accomplished through layering of feathers. The male House Finch, that has bright patches of crimson red on its head and breast in the spring, grows all of its new red feathers each fall with gray tips that wear away during the winter to expose the red under layer by spring.
If you want to attract goldfinches to your backyard—it has to be with seed. A platform feeder with sunflower seeds or a sunflower mix like Wildlife Garden Supreme will work for goldfinches, but goldfinches are on the bottom rung of the pecking order among birds, so many people provide them with their own finch feeders. These feeders have tiny seed ports and are design for imported “Nyjer thistle” seed, finely chipped sunflower seeds, or a mixture of these two. If you haven’t used a finch feeder before, be aware that both of these seeds are “dead” so that they will not sprout, but the freshness of the seed can be impacted by weather conditions.
More questions? Visit the Wildlife Garden for everything you need to know about striking it rich with goldfinches this summer!
Special Request! Last month we introduced a brand new concept in hummingbird feeding—the Hummbug nectarless protein feeder. Besides hummingbirds, many other birds will eat insects. If you have one of these popular new feeders, please let us know if you have seen any other birds that have been successful using them. We will use the results in an upcoming newsletter. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org email. And for more of the latest news and even coupons and deals, sign up for our newsletter HERE.